Interview by Ben Hosking
US metal favourites PRONG will tour Australia and New Zealand for the first time ever this coming November (2014). We chat with founding member, singer/guitarist Tommy Victor
Hi Tommy it’s Ben here calling on behalf of LifeMusicMedia.com
How are you?
Hi Ben, I’m fine thank you
Prong has been going, on and off, for almost 30 years. Yet this is your first time to Australia. How come?
Why, I guess it’s just demand over the years and the band has been really active and more recently in the last three years we’ve had more momentum to play more places.
Australia has always been on our bucket list. Hopefully we’ll also get down to South America and Eastern Europe and other places that we haven’t hit but I’m really happy that we’ve got this opportunity to get down to Australia and I’m glad that Australia has decided that we’re ready.
Are you leaving much time to sightseeing? Are there any particular places you’d like to go?
I think we have a day or two. I know about the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge but apart from the Sydney sights I’m not familiar with too much down there. I would love if the weather was great and go to the beach, that sounds like a great idea.
You must have witnessed some amazing performances in your time at CBGBs in the 1980’s and also during the Prong’s original heyday in the 1990’s. How do you view the metal scene today?
Wow, that’s a loaded question. Anything I’m going to say is going to make me sound like a grumpy old man, which I am, so I might as well just be honest about it. It’s changed a lot… there was a lot of new ground we conquered years ago. It was almost like a British invasion type of period in the 80’s, pre-grunge industrial was sort of just happening. Then there was Thrash Metal and hardcore bands and punk bands and it was all fresh… there was nothing like it before. But on the whole, there are so many copy-cat bands now so finding anything fresh, for me, is difficult.
I think it has a lot to do with this generation. I think they’re attracted to clichés, they want to fit in more than when we were kids. While they’ll be wanting more corporate things, back in the 80’s we didn’t want anything to do with that. We just wanted to play and break new ground while utilizing the influences musically that we wanted. Lyrically it was different to. Our primary focus revolved around the lyrics. I think that comes from growing up on stuff like Discharge and Killing Joke and other bands that were saying something rather than just talking about demons and stuff. You know we lived it, we took it to the streets, it was the lifestyle. Today it’s all on iPads or computers and it’s all seemingly manufactured, so there’s a big difference.
Prong were seen by many as innovators at the time. Do you think a lot of that had to do with your influences at the time, were those influences musical or as you said just railing against the norms?
Yeah, the cross genre influences that we had were really prevalent. On the lowly side of Manhattan we had this big noise music scene. We had these groups like Swans and Rat At Rat R, who I was a huge fan of. Then around the rest of the country there was the Butthole Surfers and then there were the thrash metal bands and this was awesome too, like Slayer and Dark Angel and anything we could get our hands on. These were the kinds of things we were listening to.
We also had Hardcore which New York was famous for that. I mean we had Cro-Mags and Bad Brains and many more and New York was the capital for that, so we didn’t need to look too far to get that stuff. I was at shows every night. I worked there and if I wasn’t working I would go to as many venues as I could walk to or cab to or by subway or whatever but there was always something going on.
Now, in Manhattan, forget it. People are hard placed to get a gig there… it’s like it doesn’t exist anymore. At one time there was like 22 venues that were having original music where you could play in the New York area but now, that doesn’t exist anymore. Everything now has to be calculated and strategic and made ready for social media, much more manufactured.
You’ve said in other interviews that your new album ‘Ruining Lives’ is partly about western culture today – being slaves to technology and not leaving enough time to reflect and grow. It sounds like you’ve still obviously a huge issue and you’re still finding things three decades later to kinda get angry about, enough to write about?
I don’t know if anger is the right word. It’s almost something to be happy about which is like being able to pause and to step away and meditate and reflect and accept things for what they are. I mean there’s a lot of acceptance in the lyrics too, I’m not running around and joining in on protests or anything.
How does it make you feel to see so many bands record covers of ‘Snap Your Fingers…’ over the years and cite you guys as an influence?
Yeah that’s two different questions. The fact the people have covered ‘Snap Your Fingers’, that is fantastic, it’s amazing and I feel blessed for that.
As far as the influence goes, when you start getting into that, I don’t need too much stuff to feed my ego so I don’t really get into that. The whole influential thing, mmm I don’t feel like it’s on a grand scale really. It’s like whatever. It’s also based on the past. These days I’m working on new records and touring and having too many other things to do that anything like that is just fluff at this point.
How did you feel then on one of your tours doing the “Beg To Differ” album in its entirety?
That wasn’t my idea. It was the promoter in England and he was like “we’ve got to get people to these shows” and then they didn’t even utilise it. You know we learnt the whole set and it wasn’t even being advertised and then people are like “why did you play the whole Beg To Differ set?” and I was like “well I thought that’s what we’re supposed to be doing”. It was really challenging for me. Also I hadn’t played those songs in years and it was difficult but being forced to do something or challenged like that, that’s always good, something good always comes out of it.
I used to always like to have things done my way all the time and if somebody else suggests something I would automatically say no. But now I’ve learned to try to say yes even if I really don’t want to do it and then just see what happens afterwards and then I tend to learn more and all the fears that I had about it start to get diminished a little bit. And I find that something that I was really worried about doing turns out to be really cool.
Prong had some of its greatest success in the mid 1990’s, but never reached the levels of some peers like Fear Factory, Zombie and Pantera who went onto pretty large commercial heights considering their style of music. What do you think held you back?
I think it was a lack of confidence because we were sort of forerunners for a lot of that stuff… here I go blowing my own horn saying I’m an influence which is totally contrary to what I was saying I try not to do… but we were bitten by radio people and press and everyone around was like “what are you guys doing?” There was so much negative energy about what Prong was. We made so many changes like we were Hardcore and then we were Thrash-Metal and we’d take on new challenges and it got to the point where people would think we were out of our minds. And we also didn’t do power ballads.
It got to the point where “you know we didn’t suck and all the negativity is just stupid and why are we trying to do this” kind of attitude. So there was a lot of negative energy… no one came around back then and said “you know what, what you’re doing is fucking cool and just keep doing it and fuck everybody else”. I can’t recall anyone, not managers or anyone else around back then… it was always “well these other guys are doing so much better than you” and “grunge is the new thing now, what are you guys doing?” and “we don’t know how to market you guys anymore… we don’t even know who to put you on tour with” so we just packed it in. Then when we finally got dropped by that label it was like great!
So for the next few years I had a break and didn’t even listen to music or rock music for years. So, the momentum was broken, I lacked a lot of confidence. Then it changed and I regained my confidence by working with Ministry and so I thought, you know what, I’ve got a lot of good riffs and a lot of good ideas, I’m gonna continue doing it under the Prong mark and see what happens.
That’s good and it’s great to see you guys doing so well. Speaking of which, you’ve had some really good critical reviews on the last couple of albums, what does the future look like to you for the band?
Just keep it up, keep plugging along. We’ve learnt from the past, we got distracted by so many things but now just keep plugging along. As for new distractions for these days, it’s the dire outlook on the music business and records sales, so the main challenge now is how do you survive in these times. That’s a challenge but I think a band like Prong can overcome that because we’re blessed with the fact that we’re a combination of being a legacy band and gaining new fans, so plugging along and continuing to make good records and touring. You know having a career like this is always a fight.
We look forward to seeing you live in person and thanks for your time.
Thank you man… I hope to see you down there, bye now!
Don’t miss your chance to see PRONG live in concert this November (2014) on their Australian Tour.
Click Here for PRONG Australian tour 2014 details.
Interview by Ben Hosking – Hosking Indstries – for LifeMusicMedia.com